Friday, February 28, 2014


It is bitterly cold out there tonight. Close to -50C with wind chill factored in. Spring is such a hopeful time of year. Let's hope it starts showing signs of arrival soon.

We move to the big city in spring. I spent part of my day packing up my books in my office. I have given away hundreds of books over the years. Now I only keep those that really speak to me, those that I will pick up more than once to read. I have a stack of unread books that I have already pegged for reading next winter.

My grandbaby is wonderful. He has the most beautiful smile that lights up his whole face. Only daughter is expecting a baby later this year. Two grandbabies. Doubly blessed. I never knew I was capable of loving the way I love my grandchildren.

Some people have more than their share of sorrow. A young woman who lost her parents last Spring lost a baby this past week. Holding the tiny baby in my hands (it was that tiny) I just couldn't stop the tears. "this is too much sorrow, Lord. Too much."

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Gift Of Regular Life

Good things happening in my life tend to lend themselves to no blogging. I told my grief counselor the other day that this blog is where I process what's going on in my life, particularly, the tough stuff. At the moment there is no tough stuff. Lots of great stuff, though.

Although I haven't yet completed the blood work for my second 6 month post cancer check up, the appointment itself was uneventful. I've been saying little prayers of gratitude for this uneventful life as opposed to a year ago when I felt like I was drowning in the grieving process of losing my breast to cancer.  I remember so clearly, when I was in both physical and mental pain, that I longed for regular life.

I've become one of those grandparents who just can't help showing off pictures of said grandbaby ad nauseum to whoever will humour me. Lordy, he is the sweetest gift ever and his face lights up with smiles when I talk to him.

We have sold our farm and are moving to the city on Maundy Thursday. I have yet to start packing but have been buying new furniture which is both fun and yucky feeling at times. I am not used to spending money like this. We bought a new dining room table. Our old one we've had for 27 years. See, I am not used to buying furniture. I told my counselor that it is pushing every security button I have and he laughed quite loudly at that. "So you are in a period of growth, are you?" Why, yes I am.

I am a hoarder by nature. Not of stuff but of money. If I was the only one in this relationship I would balance my budget to the penny and hoard everything leftover and get my security from it. I know that about myself. Hoarding money is my tendency. There has been this conflict going on inside me about new furniture not meaning a thing in the end nor is a bank account of any merit, either. It is both unsettling and freeing to know that. My counselor did point out, (after I told him that if I had a recurrence of cancer that the new furniture wouldn't mean anything), that if I had a recurrence I would need a beautiful space to heal in. I had instant tears at that thought. How do other people reconcile this stuff? Jesus had no place to lay his head. I can feel a little haunted by that.

My oncologist called me last week. Just over a year ago I had a particular test that helped us rule out the need for chemotherapy. It is not covered by health care in this province and I was one of the fortunate ones who got the test for free (it comes with a $4000 price tag) while this doctor lobbied the government to start covering the cost. He is ready to start talking to the media about it and was looking for a patient to speak to them as well. He asked if I would like to be a part of that process. Why yes, I would.

So, as you can see, lots of things are going on and none of them are life threatening. I am grateful.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Not Whiny

One day this week I was asked to go for lunch  with a coworker to meet up with a former colleague.  I hemmed and hawed a while before deciding if I would go. I had been sitting at my desk eating my lunch when she approached me. She asked because this woman we would meet up with had recently been diagnosed with cancer. In the end I thought, yes - being a silent support would be good. As if I could ever keep quiet.

We chit chatted about work stuff for quite a while. Then I looked at her, seated directly across from me, and said, "How are you." She replied, "Today is a good day."  and gave a brief smile. Zing. Instant tears formed in my eyes. Whew. It's not all behind me. It being my own cancer journey. I was caught off guard by the tears. I sure didn't want to make it about me in that moment so I swallowed hard and made a mental note to think about those tears later.

She worried aloud that she was being whiny if she phoned the specialists to see when she could see them. She's had the diagnosis for several weeks. Her particular cancer does not have a good outcome. I told her to never apologize for being an advocate for her own health. Certainly the doctors do not have her on their radar screen unless she is directly in front of them. She made some phone calls after lunch and as a result got an appointment slot right away. This is not a time to worry about appearing nice and not whiny. Is it ever?

Today is my second of four scheduled post cancer check ups. They happen every six months. I told my doctor at my last one that I wouldn't see him until this appointment. It's the longest I've gone without seeing a doctor in years. I'm grateful for that. I do get a little twitchy waiting for these check ups to be behind me. A friend in the program, who has had cancer several times, told me that it would take at least a year to not worry that every pain I experienced was an indicator of a recurrence. I have two friends who are dealing with metastatic breast cancer. They are on my mind often. My grief counsellor told me that he bet I thought about having had breast cancer every single day. He was right.

Next month I will have the opportunity to speak to a group of health professionals in training about my breast cancer journey. There is a lot going through my mind as to what to share and what to keep close to my (one sided) chest.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Somewhere Beautiful

I belong to an online writing group that suggest  a new word every week to be the focus of a blog post. The first week went by with the word 'vulnerable' and the second arrived with the word 'waiting'. I've felt completely uninspired. Until this. It's the first time I've spoken about it on the blog. While it was happening I couldn't write about it. Last night I finally did. Dearest One read it this morning and gave his blessing for me to share it here.

"You called her babe!"
"Well you never like it when I call you that."

"You fucking, fucking asshole." The last is said in my head as my husband walks out of our bedroom. I resist the urge to throw things at his retreating backside. Instead I thrust my middle finger in the air, waving it up high as if to add an exclamation point. And then I dissolve in tears.

Earlier in the day I had noticed his work email open on his computer and because I have several friends in his all female work department I was curious as to whether any of them email him. My curiosity had been fun in intent as I loved these women and they loved me.

What jumped out at me from his inbox was not any email from a coworker. Instead it was an email with a subject line that read "Re: Good Morning Babe" from some woman in the UK whose name I didn't recognize. Mercifully, or not, I couldn't remember his email password so I couldn't open it.

All day long I waited for him to get home from work. The subject line answered so much. The reason for his increasing emotional distance. My puzzlement over our daughter mentioning to me that he was thinking of going to Britain this summer and how he hadn't mentioned it to me. I thought of the last time we had sex and how angry he seemed.

We went for a walk after supper and I casually asked him who she was. After the initial deer in the headlights look on his face he tried to back pedal out of the conversation. I kept him focused on the moment with an eerie calmness. This wasn't the first emotional affair he'd had but it was the most devastating. There was something about that word, 'babe' that made me feel like I was going to go bat shit crazy.

What ensued was a summer of pain and growth and grace. He moved out of the house and into our holiday trailer under the guise of not wanting to be in the same house as me. There is something about not being at home within oneself that ripples out towards others in often painful ways. While I wanted to instinctively protect myself and step away from him emotionally I felt a nudge within to step towards him in love. The big gulping sobs that rose when I surrendered to this nudge affirmed my course of action.

When he phoned our adult children to let them know he was thinking of leaving me I followed up with a phone call of my own to remind them that beneath the man whose actions were foreign right now, was a good man and no matter what happened, please don't forget this about their dad.

I reaffirmed to him aloud several times that he was a good man. He recoiled from my words with both anger and tears. What I was really telling him is that while he was being a shit head please don't lose sight of the abundance of goodness inherent within himself.

I'd only recently discovered this about myself. The years of self hatred had dissolved into a self acceptance that made it possible to face the worst demons within myself. The healing that had ensued was humbling. I felt like I had come home to myself at last. It's also what led Dearest One to tell me that he didn't know who I was any more and that's why he didn't think he could remain married to me. The irony of finally learning to love myself while being rejected by him cut deeply.

One day, in the blink of an eye, I still can't explain how it happened, the wall of protective emotional concrete that I had carried like a protective shield since I was a child, fell away and in its place was an openness that was fraught with fragile beauty. For years I had prayed that God would break down that wall whatever it took. I never dreamed my husband would be walking away from me when it happened. I was stunned to find myself capable not only of emotional intimacy, but craving it. I wanted to run after my husband and say, "it's not too late, look it finally happened!"  I thought of all the years he had craved a mutual emotional vulnerability, and how I had thrown it back in his face.

I spent the summer waiting for him to decide whether he was staying or going.

This many years later we refer to that summer as the summer from hell. The good man that he is eventually emerged from underneath a shit pile of anger, confusion and pain.

Last night we were lying in bed, he on his back and me on my stomach so that we were looking at each other. Talking in bed before we go to sleep is about my favourite thing in the world to do with him. It opens up the best conversations and often lots of laughter. Somewhere in the conversation he called me baby. I tell him I've given birth to babies and I am not his baby. I feel a ping in my heart as I think about the last time that word came up in our conversation. I know he doesn't even remember it from the summer  of hell.

It's why he can continue the conversation by telling me that baby or babe is a term of endearment.

I turn the phrase lightly over in my mind and tell him it just isn't me.

"Try it," he says, "Look at me and say, I love you, babe." His eyes, framed by the rainbow arches of his eyebrows, are full of merriment and radiating with love towards me.

I practice saying the phrase in my head and look at him waiting in anticipation. My hands fly up to my face as I realize to say it and  mean it is so full of vulnerability that my eyes well up with tears and I can't talk.

Finally I choke out how I can't get the words to come out of my mouth because I feel too vulnerable, that it really is a term of endearment. I had had no idea. He tells me I would never have discovered that had he not challenged me would I?  No, no I wouldn't I tell him. I ask him to give me some time to get used to the phrase. Saying it will be a gift of the highest kind, one he will treasure in his heart.

The word that drove me bat shit crazy is now an invitation to somewhere beautiful.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Belated Blog Anniversary

Last day of work today until after the New Year. I am looking forward to the break.

My mom is back in the hospital. Hopefully she will be coming home Saturday. I don't think she has ever been in an ambulance before. I hope she never needs one again.

Dear Sweet Boy aka my grandson continues to be such a healing presence in my life. I walked in the other day, bent down to say hello to him and he greeted me with the sweetest smile. Love him to bits.

Advent has been next to non existent for me. Poor weather has kept me home from Mass for weeks. On the radio today they said we've had the same amount of snowfall in the past month that we normally have for a 12 month period. No wonder I have had some cabin fever. The commute has been so stressful that one night we got a hotel room instead of driving home.

I missed my blog anniversary earlier in the month. Nine years ago this month I started tapping away on my keyboard on this site. What a lot of life has happened in that time!

Thanks for reading along - some of you have been with me the whole journey!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Love Heals

My Dear Grandson:

The people who came before you were the best parents they could be. Trickling down through the generations, much like the last bits of syrup stretching and dripping down the side of a stack of pancakes, is the residue of their effort. It will no doubt affect you for better and for worse. I remember an older, wiser woman telling me that there was no "A" given in parenting, there was only an "E" for effort. At the time her words depressed me. I loved those gold foil stars my first grade teacher used to put on my papers when I'd met expectations perfectly. I wanted one for parenting, too. 

However, by the time my friend told me all I could hope for was an "E" for effort, in my heart I was sure I was going to get a big red "F" for failing on my parenting sojourn. I'd already done the two worst things I said I'd never do - repeat the abuse and alcoholism of my own mother. Those two things eventually catapulted me into the arms of a loving God, my only hope for a different ending.

When I first stopped drinking and became desperate to stop physically abusing your dad and his siblings, I would lie on my bed, desperate for a drink to numb the pain, and blame my mother for the mess I found myself in. The hate I felt for her was like a raging scream lodged in my gut that if given a voice, would spew like projectile vomit over everything. 

The day I made my way to a meeting and said out loud, "I am an alcoholic" I found myself on level ground with my mom and it was the beginning of the end of my hatred. The more I looked at myself and owned my choices and thus, my actions, the less I hated her for hers. The more I forgave myself for my actions, the easier it was to forgive hers, too. None of that excuses either of us for our behaviour. Our actions have repercussions. Although there will always be scars, only love can heal the wound. 

When I was a little girl I used to stand outside my parents' bedroom door, my little fist just above the doorknob, trying to get up the courage to knock. I stood there, trying to voice my deepest need-to-know question, "Do you love me?" Again and again I turned away from their door, too scared to knock, too scared to ask, too scared. One morning, scuffing the sand beneath my sneakers as we walked to the bus, I asked my little brother, "Do you think they love us?" He shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't know. I had so hoped he would say, "Of course they do!" I never stood outside their door again trying to get up the courage to knock, but that didn't stop me from wondering.

And so I've told your dad from the time he was little that I loved him. No doubt he's had his own moments of wondering if you love me then why do you act like that? But that is his story to tell you one day, not mine. 

Us humans will try every which way to get our needs met. My heart pounded like crazy the first time I said to my mom, "I love you." It was just another way to knock on the door in hopes of getting my deep need-to-know question answered. At first, all your great grandma could muster in reply, and God love her for it, was "Me, too." Like a bird giving a warning signal, her voice went up a little shrilly at the end of her words. Between the notes I heard: "I'm really uncomfortable with this so don't ask me to do something I can't." 

Your dad was a faster than lightning speed three year old when he horrified his grandma for doing a downward dog yoga kind of pose on her front lawn, pants scrunched around his ankles, so he could watch as he aimed his pee between his legs behind him. Your Papa and I still laugh at the memory. Most likely your great grandma still doesn't think it's funny. That particular visit we were on our way through town, in the process of moving another 600 miles across the country. Your great grandma believes that people are handling life's challenges well when they don't show their emotions. So when she got choked up as she went to hug me goodbye I realized, "Oh, she does love me" and in fine generational fashion, I swallowed the tears that sprang up inside me. 

Eight years ago, when your great grandma had a serious health scare that landed her in the hospital, I ended my phone call to her with "I love you". Her voice took on a ring of I feel a little silly, let's get this over with quick when she replied, "I love you, too." She said it not quite as fast as an auctioneer would, but close. I wonder if her heart was pounding as she said it.

Since then weekly phone calls have connected us in a relationship of equals. I have come to know her as a person, not just as my mother. Doing so has cleaned up the last bits of vomitous hatred within me. If Saturday afternoon passes without me calling she tucks the cordless phone beside her when she lays on the couch after supper, waiting for my call. 

When I phoned to tell her that my breast cancer diagnosis had been in error, a result of a mixed up pathology report, she burst into tears and told me it was the best news she'd had in a very long time. Two months later, when I had to tell her the breast cancer was indeed real she, a two time breast cancer survivor herself, became a companion on my cancer journey, affirming my experiences over the phone as I shared some of my darkest moments. Not once did she tell me to suck it up and bury my feelings. More often than not she let me know that she understood the pain I was going through. The day I lifted my shirt to show her my mastectomy scar and she, in turn, lifted her shirt to show me hers, is a memory I will cherish forever.

Recently your great grandma had open heart surgery. Her skin was a waxy white as they wheeled her away. The expected three hour surgery turned into four turned into six. Relief washed over all of us as they finally came to tell us she had made it through. 

I've spent the past ten days caring for both her and your great grandpa. One day after your great grandpa tried to pick up his evening pills from my hand, tears pricked at my eyes all the back down the hallway. Sorrow stabbed at me as I realized he truly is an old man. Your great grandma clutched my arm with an air of vulnerability while we walked to the doctor's office. She was at my mercy. One night, as I was reflecting on my day, I saw that caring for them held not only an element of the sacred, it was doing what the sacred always does, healing something within me. 

As I prepared to leave for the long drive home I knocked on the very same bedroom door I'd stood outside of as a little girl. I opened the door to see your great grandparents were laying awake, illuminated by the yellow glow of the lamp above their bed, waiting to say goodbye to me. When I bent down to hug my mom, my dad flung his arm over me so that for a few moments we were clasped in a silent three way hug. Out of the mishmash of our heads, came your great grandma's voice, strong and clear."I love you very much." Her tone said, "of this you can be sure." 

And I am.

As I turned my car out their driveway and onto the highway I burst into tears. I pounded the steering wheel over and over again for the next mile sobbing, "This is what love does." until my voice became a whisper, "This is what love does." For the next 600 miles I periodically burst into tears as her words echoed in my head.

Love heals. Of this you can be sure.

Monday, November 04, 2013

A Long Silence

My siblings and I have definitely entered the next stage of having ageing parents. My mom got both quite awful and quite splendid care in the hospital. ICU nurses rock. I shudder to think what happens to patients with no one to advocate for them. She is back in the hospital with complications - ones we're grateful did not kill her. The best thing health care professionals can do is listen. When that doesn't happen - stuff that lawsuits are made of happen. Except in this country one rarely sues health providers. DH is always saying if it happened more often we'd get better care. Lordy, we had to fight to get my mom what she needed.

My sister in law has made an incredible recovery so far. She went from being in organ failure to being able to sit up in a chair in the space of a week. She has a long road ahead of her and is still needing assistance to breathe but the fact that she is here is mind boggling. We are grateful.

The day the photo of me and my mastectomy scar went on social media was quite overwhelming. The response to it was unexpected. I was in tears a few times at some of the replies. It did seem to help someone out there and I ended up feeling less alone in the journey which was a bonus.

My brother is still recovering from his health scare. When I offered him the information that would prevent the complication from happening again he was none too open. A simple fix that prevents me from having that particular complication. When he declined it was a reminder for me not to get wound up about stuff I have no control over. Which is basically everything except my attitude. I need to remember that.

I'm headed back home for an extended stay to care for my parents. See you when I get back.